The Upcoming Election, Youth Leadership, High IQ, and CreativityShare
Are great leaders born or made? Are IQ and creativity essential to be an extraordinary leader?
The Upcoming Election, Youth Leadership, High IQ and Creativity
With the upcoming U.S. presidential election just around-the-corner, the media have been focusing on the leadership qualities of our two candidates. …Especially after the speeches at the recent RNC in Tampa and the DNC in Charlotte. One fascinating question has been asked by more than a few pundits on nation-wide TV: Are leaders, including our political leaders, born or made? Sounds like the familiar nature/nurture question that many still ask in the gifted field!
There are over 10,000 books and articles in the English language written on leadership. We know a great deal about leadership, particularly leadership as it relates to organizations, government, and the military. However, quite frankly we know much less about early precursors of leadership, how and when leadership first develops in youth, and the relationship of leadership, IQ, and creativity. It remains unclear whether leadership is best viewed as an aptitude or ability, as a set of interpersonal skills, a personality style, or some combination. If these kind of questions interest you, I discuss what we know, what we don’t know, and prevailing myths about youth leadership in my new book Serving the Gifted, published just this month by Routledge. If you have interest reading about high ability kids, creativity, and youth leadership, you will enjoy the book! (http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415997508/)
Most readers, of course, are familiar with the many youth organizations which provide early leadership opportunities for kids. For example, the Boy Scouts of America, with nearly 4 million members, recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. Scouting is also hugely popular internationally. In Indonesia alone, there are over 8 million scouts! There are many youth organizations which emphasize group activities, character development, and civic engagement. The question remains, however, whether these or other structured experiences actually promote early leadership development. Another way of asking the question is this: Are there ways to identify at an early age the early spark of exceptional leadership potential? …and, if so, are there any tried-and-proven programs that better prepare our next generation of young leaders?
Leadership is persuasion; it involves influencing other people to pursue a shared and important goal or mission. At its best, leadership requires others to willingly adopt the goals of the group as their own. Leadership involves creating compelling and shared visions, building trust, confidence, optimism and hope, and enabling others to act toward a common goal. When voters think of Romney and Obama as our next supreme leader, they likely consider how well they create shared visions, how effectively they exude trust and confidence, and whether they will be able to move our country forward toward shared goals for America. Voters also look to leaders to be honest. And be guided by ethical convictions. The still unresolved, million-dollar question is whether our best leaders shared certain characteristics and dispositions as children.
One popular writer on leadership, Warren Bennis, maintains that leadership is not a rare skill or inborn trait. He contends that leaders are made rather than born, and that leaders need not be charismatic or brilliant individuals to be successful. Bennis does not view leadership as an innate ability and would not conceptualize leadership talent based on high IQ. His view is compatible with contemporary theories of giftedness. Many of us in the gifted field no longer view giftedness and high IQ as synonymous. We recognize, for sure, the importance of ability for kids to develop into masterfully successful adults in any complex field or profession, including president of the U.S.! But many of us also maintain that many other factors – such as motivation, persistence, frustration tolerance, hard work, passion, and even opportunity – are also very important parts of the calculus in the talent development equation, and in predicting who will ultimately develop into a renowned and highly celebrated leader.
Just about everyone agrees that creativity is important for successful organizations to thrive. And that creativity is a valued characteristic of many successful leaders. However, is creativity essential? Our own experience in working with promoting leadership development among youth suggests that a high level of creativity is a nice, but not essential characteristic. Our own experience also indicates that highly effective leaders need to be bright. This is an indispensable characteristic of all successful leaders. But we believe that they don’t necessarily have to be über-bright. They don’t have to be the class valedictorian or the kid with the highest SAT scores in high school to develop into outstanding leaders. In other words, our future leaders should be bright and be able to think outside of the box, but they don’t necessarily have to be super-creative or possess an off-the-charts IQ.
Then what are the essential or core characteristics of highly effective leaders that we need to look for in youth if we want to identify a cadre of high potential distinguished future leaders? Here is our short list of the five signature characteristics that we believe are indispensable characteristics in kids that predict to later success as leaders: keen problem solving ability; comfort with ambiguity, stress, and anxiety; skill in managing conflict, disagreement and differences of opinion among peers; honesty; willingness to work harmoniously with others, including kids from different backgrounds and dissimilar viewpoints; and openness to experience.
We want and expect our leaders to inspire trust, be principled, get us through difficult times and situations, solve highly complex and seemingly irresolvable and hopeless crises, and keep us on a chartered path toward a better life. Courageous and brilliant leadership does not require Einstein-level creativity or IQ. But it does necessitate a person who is curious and is open to experience and different points of view before making decisions that touch the lives of very many people.